Amsterdam: A place beyond belief

musings, places
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The title of this post may seem cheesy, but it’s worth considering that I very, very nearly tittled it “Amsterdayummm”. “A place beyond belief” isn’t looking too bad anymore, is it?

Last week I went to Amsterdam. I was visiting Nigeria and flew with KLM as Virgin and BA now seem to think that we’re all millionaires. Besides price, flying with KLM also gave me benefit of the opportunity to stop in Holland. As I’ve never been before, I purposely chose a connecting flight back to London that was 14 hours after I arrived in Amsterdam so I could have a look around. It was great exploring the city, although due to the timing of the planes and my refusal to pay for a tram in the city centre, I was absolutely exhausted by the time I got on the plane to Heathrow. Despite this, I absolutely LOVED my time in Amsterdam. Would be great to live there sometime. Maybe that’s what I’ll do after uni: slump around the Dam (I think that’s what cool people call it). And hey, if I run out of money, there’s always the red light district to make a buck or two.

That joke was inappropriate. I apologise.

Aaaaanyway, my favourite place in Amsterdam by far was NDSM-werf – I think werf means wharf – which is a collection of derelict, abandoned shipyards around which something of an artistic community has unexpectedly appeared. I imagine that, in this respect, it is similar to New York borough Brooklyn, not that I’ve been, in that a down-market, unmaintained, formerly overlooked neighbourhood has become a creative breeding ground for artists and/or hipsters and/or people who un-ironically list their profession as “poet”. I absolutely loved the place. B-e-a-utiful. Everything had been tampered with or repurposed into something creative. Whether it was the electricity fuse box that had been turned into a face, the metal cable spools used as seats or shipping containers moonlighting as rooms, everything was something it was never meant to be. Even a crane, an object used exclusively for function, was – intentionally or not – painted in aesthetically pleasing colours. The huge ship-building factory warehouses had been repurposed into offices/workspaces. One of the warehouses was actually MTV’s office which does unfortunately dock some hipster-points from the place, but piles on the mainstream cool-points. Another warehouse rented out office space, the only catch being that you had to make your own office! Inside were loads of unique structures, some made of wood, some of metal, some glass or plastic or whatever, that the people who work there had made or had had made. It. Was. So. Cool. I loved exploring the two storeys of offices because they were so mismatched, each more unexpected than then last.
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I met a lovely man on the 10-minute ferry over there (I can’t even contemplate the amount of hipster points being able to say you take the ferry to work would grant you) who explained to me that the ship-building companies had all gone out of business in the 70s so the place had been left to ruin, but in recent years had been taken up by creative types. He also suggested a café I should visit and all but walked me to it (he really was lovely). The café turned out to be in a greenhouse. No, seriously. It looked really cool and I really wanted to go in, but it was closed. The ferry man did warn me it might be, joking that artists would never be up so early. It was 9am. As a student,  I completely empathise with the artists and their nocturnal sleeping pattern.
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View from the ferry to NDSM-werf

Other randomly beautiful things included an old Citroen with stained glass windows and a licence plate that read “survivant” mounted inexplicably on shipping container; a submarine left by the Russians (what are they like eh?); and an unexpectedly accurate sign, visible from the ferry on the way there, that read ” A place beyond belief”. The whole area was old and dishevelled but there was a certain beauty to it that I can’t quite put my finger on. I realise how pretentious that sounds, but I genuinely mean it. The derelict qualities of the place, and the things in it, would have been ugly elsewhere, but here it fit perfectly.
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Outside of NDSM-werf, I loved the architecture of Amsterdam: Gothic and/or Art Deco, yet still modern (I know NOTHING about architecture so am probably talking crap, but I understand what I mean, at least.) I really enjoyed the canals too. They made the city that bit more romantic. Just beautiful. Museumplein – a park outside the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh and the Stedelijk museums had some gorgeous blossom-covered trees and, of course, the famous ‘Iamsterdam’ sign.
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I was a little disappointed by the bloemenmarket, the flower market (as you can see, I speak fluent Dutch now) as the pictures I’d seen made it look like what was essentially a field of flowers that just happened to be encased in a series of market stalls. It turned out that most stalls didn’t have too many flowers on display, just some dotted around the place. This was disappointing because I was looking forward to taking some pseudo artistic pictures of all the vibrant colours. I did take a few, but I would have liked to see more flowers at a flower market, especially considering the time of year I came – I’m no florist, but I was under the impression that flowers bloom in spring. To be fair, I guess most of the problem was that the stall owners didn’t put the flowers they had together, but spread them around. I can’t photograph that crap. How incredibly inconsiderate of them. I was also a little let down by the main market. Is anyone else seeing a trend here? But this was purely because I’d forgotten that markets in general have little to interest me, assuming that because I was in another country, the market would be so much more interesting than what we have at home. I was wrong. It was great and all, and some stalls looked really good (especially the food) but there’s not that much to be found for me at markets. I mean, what am I going to do with a poor quality, yet overpriced headscarf?
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Amsterdam Schipol airport itself is quite an attraction in itself. When I got off the plane I was faced with a casino, juice bars and a mini version of the Rijksmuseum featuring exhibits from the original. And all this was in the arrivals/departures lounge! Outside in the main airport was a huge shopping centre. I’ve loved airports since I was a child because they promise so much to explore. If I’d gone to Slhipol when I was younger, I probably would have fainted with excitement. By the way, does anyone else find that, despite it seeming like they’re so large and have so much to explore, there’s always less to see at airports than you think? Or is that just me who’s going through a phase of being marginally disappointed with everything?

One thing I noticed was that the airport shopping centre had a H&M, which wouldn’t be interesting if there weren’t at least 4 other H&M shops within a mile radius of each other in the city centre. Story time: When I stopped over in Paris when returning from Nigeria in 2011, I spent a lot of time in the city centre and ultimately got lost and missed my connection flight to London and was left stranded in Paris. As romantic as it sounds, I had no intention of being stuck in France for the rest of my life with no money or friends and after a (less frantic than you’d think) phone call my mum booked me another flight and saved me. Anyway, aside from my incompetence, lack of orienteering skills and general bad luck, one of the things that contributed to me missing my flight was my inability and consequent determination to find a H&M. So 3 years later, the next time I’m I’m a new city alone, I found it rather funny that I was surrounded by H&M stores. God – or fate, depending on your worldview – has a very dry sense of humour.
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Speaking of humour, a slightly funny and slightly embarrassing thing happened to me after I’d had lunch. I’d eaten in this nice little café and was heading towards the market when I saw some Christian graffiti stencilled on the pavement. It was a cross followed by an equal sign and a heart: ‘Christ is love’. Words I wholeheartedly agree with. I was taking pictures of it, already imagining the arty filter I’d put on the photo when I uploaded it online (#christianhipster), when a cool looking young man approached me on a bike. He asked me if I knew any cafés. ‘What luck,’ I thought. ‘I’ve just come from a café. This is one question I can answer, despite being in an unfamiliar city.’ I went on to (poorly) explain in great detail how to get there. “So it’s like a coffee shop,” he asked. “Well they do sell coffee but they sell other things too like sandwiches and paninis,” I assured him. This back and forth went on for a little while, until the poor man realised he’d stumbled upon the most clueless person in the city. “Do they sell weed,” he asked finally, realising that subtlety is wasted on the likes of me. I’d genuinely completely forgotten about the whole marijuana coffee shop culture of Amsterdam and had thought he was just extremely particular about where he eats. After I assured him that I had no idea where he could procure such items, he smiled and shook my hand, despite me wasting all his time being clueless and lame. Nice guy. To be honest, it’s not really an embarrassing story, just an exemplar of my chronic uncoolness.
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Despite my best efforts to ruin it, Amsterdam is a very, very cool place. I know I’ve gushed too much about it, but I genuinely had an amazing time. It’s a truly, truly beautiful city.

Here are some more pictures from my visit:
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